November 30, 2016 at 3:32PM


Best Orchestral/Cinematic tools for film scoring?

Which are the best sample packs or vst's for film scoring? I've used a lot but just a few have a good orchestral/cinematic sound, and for a film I'm scoring now I need a orchestral sound (and I don't have the resources to hire an orchestra yet).
As I'm composing from the beginning I won't use pre-rendered loops or motives, so, which are the best vst's or sample packs for film scoring for you? (If you also know some with more "electronic/electric" sound, that will be helpful)


The best orchestral tools are musicians!
Even the best sample packages still sound like samples and I can't believe movies that cost $200,000,000 to make use them for what's supposed to be an orchestra. It's insulting.
Music (especially orchestral) is best not only when it comes from humans but as a part of collaboration. I won't get into the intricacies of how musicians react off of one another (and the conductor) as well as their environment but you can have that without a huge budget. I was asked by a writer/producer/director/DP/editor/composer/mixer friend to remix a score he did because he tried several times and couldn't get acceptable results. Of course, there was no money. He gave me free reign to do anything it took to make it work, so I asked not only for his tracks but also the source MIDI file.
Now, this particular movie maker was very proud of his sample library, which I admit was better than most but still wasn't convincing. He went through great effort to add little timing and dynamic changes, multiple layers of slightly different instruments, really handled it as intelligently as anybody could.

I took his tracks, imported them into my multi-track program and used the MIDI file to generate notation. I got a violinist and a violist I knew together in my garage and I borrowed an upright bass. The three of us replaced the written parts in multiple passes (slightly changing our technique and positions for each) and I covered the cello parts with the upright bass on my own later. I kept the sampled piano, which still sounded like a sampled piano but wasn't too bad.
When I sent the mix back, he was astonished at the difference. He said he was about to give up on it entirely. It didn't quite sound like an orchestra, but it was alive, had feeling. Rerecording took a couple hours of their time. Of course, I got the musicians copies of the final product as a "thank you".
A lot of clever budget composers use a mixture of samples and real instruments. It's especially important for lead instruments to be human. Now if you WANT an electronic sound, you can't beat a synthesizer. You still have nearly infinite variations (as opposed to samples), especially with older analogue synths, which change slightly with temperature and variations in power. With an analogue synth, you could potentially use the same MIDI file to drive the same patch, record both and have a slightly thicker sound. If you did that with samples, the result would be the same as a single pass but 3dB louder, because there's no inherent variations.
It takes a bit more work, but digital FM synthesis can be used to great success as well. Listen to Wendy Carlos "Digital Moonscapes". It's very electronic sounding, but lifelike at the same time, due to the massive amount of human input.

December 1, 2016 at 5:06AM


It's true that's always better musicians over VST's, samples or MIDI. The problem is that where I live it's really difficult get them, I studied music production in college and I know a lot of great musicians, but when I got a project, they're always busy (unless is financed). So I wanted to know some virtual instruments as last resource (right now I'm working on a score of a short for a contest, and they gave me only 2 days to score it and without financing... I'm a drummer and a keyboardist so I recorded them myself and some other instruments like a bass or a sax I'm using Kontakt and I'm really amazed of the fidelity of it)

Alejandro Badillo

December 1, 2016 at 4:57PM

"they gave me only 2 days to score it and without financing."

Why do people keep doing that? I recently got a phone call for a boom operator on a two-week production. "Sure, when does it start?"
"Sorry, I can't drop everything on a moment's notice."

Then the opposite can happen. "Can you do our location audio? It's a month-long shoot."
"When is it?"
"Absolutely!" Then the shoot gets cancelled but nobody tells me.

In your case, there's really no choice, but I'm definitely the wrong guy to answer about what VSTis to use. I'm a drummer too but own and dabble with a variety of instruments, none of which are in-the-box. I do have a couple analogue and FM synths; that's as close as it gets. :) I HATE samples! I will say that it's important to use a controller with after-touch and a library/program that can take advantage of it. You can program a computer to play any notes you want, but only humans can make music.

December 2, 2016 at 4:45AM


I am a zero budget film maker. I compose music for all of my films. I have depended on my soft synths always to create music. Except for solo performances, soft synths can get you decent results. Kontakt factory libraries are not bad. If you want better feel, Cinesamples are good. A bit expensive though.

There is no way you can match a live orchestra performance with VSTs. I try to see how far I can go to sell that shot. Sometimes you will need to get a little creative with midi tricks, layering rhythmic percussion over etc. I admire Hans Zimmer's hybrid approach to music composing. There is new Masterclass coming up next year that I am really looking forward to. Have you checked out the trailer?

I highly recommend the Zebra synth. I can't put a finger on it but there is a certain cinematic quality to its sounds. Zimmer uses it extensively. (Or at least used it for Batman, Inception, etc). Omnisphere is also good. It's pricey. Zebra has a better interface imho. It is also light on cpu. I used Zebra extensively in my last short 'Canopy'.

December 3, 2016 at 11:39AM

Rajesh Naroth

You can do almost anything with Reaper (stunning $60 DAW), Wusikstation ($50 VST plugin with huge sounds collection included), and an upgraded soundcard such as M-Audio (maybe $200 ?). Don't skip the soundcard or you'll regret it. (An awful thing called latency can slow down the responsiveness of your setup, without a good one.) Once you have a DAW and soundcard, you can harvest hundreds of free VSTs with just a little effort. Kontakt opens the door to using the best commercial VSTs. Any package offered by Kirk Hunter Studios will give you great value for orchestral work.

December 3, 2016 at 6:55PM, Edited December 3, 7:18PM

Douglas Boe

I get really great results with East/West sounds. For 30 dollars a month you get access to a huge chunk of their library used by many professionals. Really great strings, piano, etc, very realistic. It's top end stuff and their monthly payment cloud option makes it affordable.

December 12, 2016 at 9:42AM, Edited December 12, 9:42AM

Ben Meredith

I've made music since grade 8. And growing up, there are a decent amount of free DAWs (digital audio workstations) that you can use if you're going on a $0 budget.
Here's a list of free ones I know:
-Zynewave Podium
-Ardour (Only for MAC and Linux)

There are also a bunch of free VST plugins (virtual instruments) you can find on the internet. Here's a few:
-DSK Overture (If you go on DSK's website, they have a lot a free orchestral vsts for you to use)
-There's definitely more out there that I didn't mention

If you're looking for straight up film scoring but don't know how to do it. You should check out Filmstro. It's free but they also have more features if you pay for a premium license I believe.

My personal preference for making all music though is Fruity Loops, and has always been Fruity Loops. Buuuut remember, it ain't always about the software, it's mostly about your creativity.

December 16, 2016 at 6:31AM

Randell Acuram
Film Maker, Director, Musician, College Student

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